Dandelion: USDA Calls This Plant One of the Top 4 Most Nutritious Greens
Many a gardener has aimed his or her trowel at this humble weed, eager to free an otherwise pristine lawn of its unsightly green leaves and telltale yellow flowers.
But there may be more to this pesky plant than meets the eye.
Could those leaves be a nutritious addition to your salad?
Will teas and tonics made from its roots help boost immunity, support your liver, or even protect against cancer?
Might the plant – whose Latin name translates to “Official Remedy of Disorders” – even promote psychic powers?
Here’s everything you need to decide whether to cultivate this weed, take it as a supplement, or toss it in the compost bin.
A Wonder Weed?
Anyone trying to keep their yard up to snuff is familiar with the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), a common weed that grows in most sunny, temperate zones.
Dandelion gets its name from the French (dent de lion means “teeth of the lion”), but it’s also been called wild endive, blow ball, goat’s beard, fairy clock and peasant’s cloak.
Fancy names aside, your first inclination is probably to rip that sucker up by its roots and throw it away. But you might be missing out on something special.
See, dandelions have been valued for their purported health and nutrition benefits for millennia throughout Europe, Asia, North America, and parts of Africa. There seems to be no limit to its potential benefits.
Ancient Greeks believed the plant could help improve digestion, while practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine rely on dandelion to treat liver ailments.
Celts and Romans depended on dandelion as a way to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes, and often recommended ingesting small quantities of the roots and leaves before meals to help the body better digest fruits, vegetables, and grains.
The French used it during the 18th century as a remedy for gout, and the Pennsylvanian Dutch considered it a nutritious spring herb.
Some cultures even viewed dandelion as a magical plant that could increase psychic prowess!
Today’s herbalists may not quite see this weed as mystical, but they do claim that it has some fantastic powers.
Indeed, proponents use teas, tonics, and capsules of powdered dandelion leaves and roots to prevent and treat a wide range of concerns, including heart failure, loss of appetite, indigestion, flatulence, gallstones, arthritis, muscle aches, eczema, bruises, liver problems, infections, and cancer.
More Study Needed…
With glowing recommendations like these, dandelion has to be a great addition to your herbal medicine cabinet, right?
Well, let’s take a look at the scientific evidence.
Actually, there’s very little scientific evidence.
Despite the claims about dandelion’s myriad health benefits, no gold-standard clinical studies have been conducted on the plant.
So why does dandelion have such a great reputation?
Although many of the uses attributed to dandelion simply come from a long history of use and word of mouth, researchers have examined some of its effects – in the lab.
For example, some preliminary studies suggest that dandelion root may stimulate the flow of bile, which may help bolster beliefs that it’s a liver tonic. Other research has identified scores of potentially beneficial compounds in dandelion roots and leaves, including anti-inflammatory phenylpropanoids, immune-boosting polysaccherides, and anti-cancer sesquiterpene lactones.1,4,5,6
The latter may be responsible for dandelion’s possible role as cancer-preventive plant: A 2008 study showed that dandelion leaf tea (but not dandelion root tea) appeared to decrease the number of breast cancer cells and prostate cancer cells.2,5
More recently, one 2011 study found that dandelion root tea could kill leukemia cells, while another showed that it destroyed melanoma cells.3,5
And a study of laboratory mice suggests that dandelion root supplements might increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.5
Although these studies are promising, they still need to be replicated in humans before we can say for sure whether dandelion actually works.
Why You Should Go Green…
For now, dandelion’s real promise lies in its culinary use. See, its bitter green leaves aren’t just good for your taste buds. Simply put, this simple plant is a nutritional powerhouse.
Dandelion is higher in beta-carotene than any other edible green, and ranks in the top four of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most nutritious green vegetables.
It’s also an excellent source of fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, and riboflavin. Plus, dandelion is rich in micronutrients like copper, cobalt, zinc, boron, and molybdenum, as well as in vitamin D.
The plant’s super-food status may help explain why so many cultures view dandelion as a restorative spring green that’s light on the stomach but packs a major nutrient punch.
A Dandy Food…
While we wait for more studies on dandelion, your best bet is to pass on supplements (which may not contain all of the nutrients found in the whole plant) and add this tasty green to your diet. Toss fresh dandelion greens into salads, stir-fries, and soups.
You can also sip dandelion beverages: Look for coffee substitutes made from dandelion roots. Because of its bitter taste, dandelion is usually combined with sassafras, ginger, and other herbs to create teas that have a flavor similar to root beer. (That’s no accident: dandelion was one of the ingredients traditionally used to make root beer.)
Dandelion is considered generally safe, although it may interact with certain drugs, including lithium, amitriptyline, propranolol, theophylline, verapamil, acetaminophen, oral contraceptives, potassium-sparing diuretics, and some antibiotics.7
Dandelion can cause heartburn in some people, and you should avoid it if you are allergic to similar plants, including ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, and daisies.7
Otherwise, look for dandelion greens at natural foods shops, farmer’s markets, supermarkets or even as close as your own backyard – and get cooking!
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
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